Saturday, 3 March 2007

Simply Not Cricket

I work for an Australian university that is establishing itself here in Singapore and this week is D Day (or more precisely "O" Week) when our first students arrive for their orientation.

Quite naturally we retain a certain 'Ozzie' flavour in our programmes and approach to education so it came as no surprise to see that a cricket match was scheduled as part of the week long activities. An invitation has been issued to any staff member who understands terms such "square leg" and "googly" to step forward and join the team.

Not surprisingly most of my Singaporean colleagues seem somewhat bemused by the cricket jargon and Australian fixation for this game.

This year I shall not be taking up the invitation to participate but shall cheer from the sidelines. There is a reason for this - my last cricket outing forty years ago ended in somewhat humiliating circumstances.

I was a fifth former at a New Zealand boarding school at the time and a good rugby player although only adequate at cricket. I came from a cricketing family and my father had been a provincial captain, so a I recall that in my infancy our family often travelled to cricket matches to watch my father's team compete. Very pleasurable memories they were to as the journey home often meant fish and chips wrapped in newspaper was the evening fare.

By the fifth form I had managed to wheedle myself into the Fourth Eleven. To celebrate this elevation my father bought me a pair of white leather cricket boots. Nowadays cricketers wear much lighter footwear but in the '60's heavy white, leather lace-ups where all the fashion and they had small metal sprigs in the sole for grip.

One had to install the sprigs oneself and I was given implicit instruction on where to place them and the need to hammer them firmly home. I spent considerable time positioning the sprigs and considerably less time hammering them in.

Came the day of the match on the Gully ground and I was ordered to bat in the middle order, such was the confidence of my team mates in my abilities. There were no artificial pitches in those days and the wicket was overlayed with mats made out of woven jute to protect the grass underneath.

My moment arrived with our team struggling to meet the opposition's first inning total and the need for a 'solid knock' from the middle order. I strode purposely to the crease, surveyed the surrounding fielding position and faced the first ball.

To my surprise, the opposing team's bowler was a worse player than I. His first ball was so slow that it allowed me to connect with it and hit it to the boundary - a most respectable 'four' was recorded and my team mates sat up and took notice. It would be stretching the truth to say that they were awe struck, but as they had never seen me score in this fashion before it was no doubt somewhat of a novelty.

Play continued with the odd darting run between the wickets and several other boundaries. I actually started to enjoy myself and was brimming with confidence as I reached a score of twenty six.

Could this be the start of a century partnership? Alas it was not to be.

The very next ball was delicately nudged past the slip fielders requiring a quick single between the wickets. It was at this moment that my ill-hammered sprigs ruined my ambition. Down the wicket I sprinted, bat in glove. Half way to my destination a loose sprig went through the weave of the jute, bringing me to an immediate halt. Such was my momentum that I pitched forward, midway down the wicket . Try as I might, I could not extract my boot from the jute and was run out.

Five minutes later after I had unlaced the boot and the groundsman had been called to extract it from the wicket, I limped off a cricket pitch for the last time, to the accompanying cat calls and hoots of laughter from friend and foe alike.

So this coming week I shall be watching from the sidelines and admiring the skills of my Indian colleagues as they and I enjoy the crack of ball on willow.

That is of course if it doesn't rain.

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